In Tokyo, from the last few days of March until the first few days of April, cherry blossoms paint the city in shades of pink. Called “sakura” in Japanese, these flowers are probably as quintessential to Western visions of Japan as Mt. Fuji or kimono. Sure, in the states you’ll be able to find them and probably with a more generous blooming season due to more consistent temperatures, but in Japan viewing these flowers is an all out experience.
An up-close view of the beautiful sakura
Symbolically, cherry blossoms are representative of transience, brevity, and the Japanese concept of “mono no aware,” the awareness of things. They are also compared to clouds, due to their sudden emergence and the various forms they take on during their life cycle: cirrus, stratus, and cumulus shapes are all represented. The effect of fallen petals is also rather snow-like, whiting out streets and bodies of water.
The Meguro river under attack.
The sakura bloom is a time to truly appreciate the wonders of spring, at last revealing themselves despite the season supposedly having started with Setsubun way back in February. Tokyo can’t help but slow down, albeit for less than a week, under the pink tree tops and the lanterns that accompany them. There’s even a word for taking in the sights, hanami, combining the kanji for “flower” and “look.”
Boats for a better view in Chiyoda!
As pretty as they are, sakura don’t provide much protection from sun exposure so be sure to bring a hat!
Hanami was truly unlike anything I’ve experienced in Tokyo. For once, I felt like I was the one moving fast and on edge, trying to capture the best angles, whilst more seasoned Tokyoites were lazing about, chatting and picnicking.
Sakura mochi waffle: as pretty as it is plastic-like, 5/10
Food seems just as important as the flowers themselves, something I realized soon enough to regret bringing a snack. You can usually tell you’re getting close to a good hanami spot by the empty shelves in the surrounding conbinis. Fancier grocery stores usually market bento boxes specifically for the activity, including all kinds of sakura candies or patterned napkins. And of course some people just make their own meals; in Ueno Park I even saw some portable grills in use!
Meguro at night
Still, sakura aren’t absorbing enough that typical Tokyo order is completely lost. Even in their flower frenzy, most observers of hanami remained fully considerate of the people around them. Trash would be neatly tucked away, children kept in check, and the best angles were equipped with de facto queues, no one hogging any one branch for too long.
On the one day I was out alone, I was met with such a barrage of offers to take pictures for me reciprocally that I finally gave in, despite looking an utter mess after hours of park hopping.
I call this expression “Sensoji Steel”
After the fact that I completely missed the fall application deadline for TUJ, sakura season was the determining factor in me coming to Japan in the spring. Ever since first seeing the far less impressive bloom that overtakes D.C. about a week or two after Tokyo season, I knew I wanted to see the real thing. As my time abroad comes closer and closer to the end, I’m glad to have ticked hanami off my list as well as to be reminded that there are many other traditional experiences I’ll be able to seek out in the coming weeks.